Twenty years ago, Phil and Lena Burleson opened Agrodolce in Germantown, this week they announced that their restaurant — one of Germantown’s most beloved and longest running eateries — had closed permanently.
The closure of one of Germantown’s few independently owned and operated high-quality restaurants was announced via a message on Agrodolce’s social media accounts on Wednesday, April 10. Agro’s last day of operation was Tuesday. April 9.
“This is certainly not the way I planned to tell this story, but it is sadly the way it has unfolded,” wrote the Burlesons in Agrodolce’s goodbye message on social media. “After 20 years, Agrodolce is closing — yesterday was our last day in business. I had hoped to be able to say that after 20 years, the Burleson family was passing the torch to a new owner, one who was going to take what we had built and make it even better. Unfortunately, we found out last night that the deal that this buyer had with the landlord fell through and the landlord has decided to go in a different direction with the space.”
The message goes on the say that Agrodolce’s landlord — Fairfax, Va.-based Peterson Companies, which owns the Milestone Center in Germantown, along with RIO in Gaithersburg and Downtown Silver Spring, had been allowing the restaurant to remain open while the Burleson’s negotiated a deal to sell the business. However, since the deal to sell the Agro fell through, the restaurant would be closing. “With no deal,” read the social media note, “we must close our doors and say goodbye.”
Agrodolce opened in April of 1999 and has become a fixture for Germantown residents to enjoy a bite to eat or a have drinks with friends, or enjoy music at the restaurant’s outdoor patio during the warm weather months.
A 20-year run for a restaurant is impressive. A study conducted by The Perry Group International found that the majority of restaurants usually fail in the first year. Of those restaurants that made it beyond a year, 70 percent failed within the next three to five years.
Independent restaurants such as Agrodolce are a rare breed, indeed. The NPD Group reported in Fall 2017 ReCount, a census of commercial restaurant locations in the United States compiled in the spring and fall each year, that the number of independent restaurants declined nationwide by nearly 11,000 establishments from the year before, while restaurant chains increased by 982 establishments. The primary source of the decline in U.S. restaurant units was a three percent drop in independent restaurant units, said the report.
“The U.S. restaurant count is reflective of what’s happening in the foodservice industry today overall,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst in the report. “To expand or not expand units is a calculated decision on the part of restaurant operators. Chains simply have more monetary resources to grow units whereas independents do not.”
“Germantown, you have been so good to us!” wrote the Burlesons on social media, “We opened our doors in April of 1999 not knowing a whole lot, and you welcomed us with open arms. We grew along with you. We have had the PLEASURE of having some of the best employees around! We have had the PLEASURE of meeting strangers who have become close friends. We have had the PLEASURE of serving you every day of the last 20 years, and we are so very sad that it is over. As I said, not the way I planned to tell this story, but here we are. THANK YOU to everyone for your support over the years! We will treasure it forever!”
Photo by Germantown Pulse